My Favorite Songs of 2021: Daygraves, Deafheaven, Japanese Breakfast, Low, Lycia, Angel Olsen & more
28 songs that helped get me through the year that was 2021.
It seems only proper to post my year-end mixes on January 1. (Put another way, why post a retrospective of a year during the year itself?) But I’m giving Opus subscribers a sneak peek at my favorite songs of 2021.
These are songs that I kept coming back to, again and again, even months after I first heard them. They provided me with some welcome comfort and beauty in the midst of a year filled with so much darkness, madness, and confusion.
“Space Travel” by Johan Agebjörn & Mikael Ögren
Johan Agebjörn is probably best known for his work with italo disco chanteuse Sally Shapiro (who also released some new music in 2021). His work on Artefact, a collaboration with Mikael Ögren, bears some similarities to that work, namely in the shining, immaculately polished synth work. However, as befitting its title, “Space Travel” isn’t meant for the dance floor. That would be too limiting. Rather, this is cosmically minded dance music, the sort of music you listen to on headphones while staring up at the night sky, and imagining yourself soaring past nebulae and other cosmic phenomena at the speed of light.
“Less Human” by Daygraves
Daygraves originally had a very different direction in mind for the Imperishable EP. But when he fell ill and was left bedridden throughout the summer, he decided to make an EP about, in his words, “what it’s like to be a person of faith that has a chronic illness.” The result is a blackgaze juggernaut. Yes, “Less Human” has all of the unearthly screams, punishing beats, and searing guitar riffs that you’d expect from the genre, but its emotional heft and pensive lyrics — borne out of real personal struggle — makes them all the more impactful.
“Great Mass of Color” by Deafheaven
And speaking of blackgaze, Deafheaven — one of the genre’s earliest popularizers — returned with a new album that actually saw them downplay the black metal aspects of their sound. The result might be the most straightforward and accessible music in the band’s catalog, but as “Great Mass of Color” makes plain to see, it’s no less beautiful for that. Indeed, I daresay it’s so good precisely because it’s accessible without sacrificing any of the band’s intensity.
“Night Grasping at Day” by Desiderii Marginis
Johan Levin has been crafting compelling dark ambient music for over two decades now under the Desiderii Marginis moniker, and his latest, Bathe in Black Light, certainly stands as one of his finest efforts. “Night Grasping at Day” is the album’s opening track, and immediately sets the stage with its desolate drones and haunting mood. Listening to Levin’s soundscapes is like exploring a vast and stark wilderness dotted with ancient, ivy-covered ruins: ominous and otherworldly, sure, but also utterly enthralling.